New insight from UCAS is highlighting the rapidly increasing pressure that is likely to faced in the student housing sector, with a projected 30% increase in higher education applicants by 2030.
Posted Thu 18 May 2023 - 00:01

UCAS, in partnership with Knight Frank and Unite Students, has invited 50 key thinkers from across the UK as part of a national debate to give their view on tackling the challenges and seizing the opportunities. UCAS will share this broad and diverse set of Journey to a Million essays on

There are currently 2.2 million full-time students in the UK, equivalent to around three students per available bed in purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA). UCAS, in partnership with Knight Frank and Unite Students, is highlighting that in 2030 there could be a million higher education applicants in a single cycle – a quarter of a million higher than today, and double the numbers seen in 2006. Projections made by Unite Students, which also looked at growth in the postgraduate students, suggest that by the end of the decade there will be an additional 400,000 full-time students seeking some form of student accommodation.

Key contributions to UCAS’ national debate on the projected Journey to a Million focus on the challenges of student experience and accommodation in a more competitive world and include insight such as:

  • ‘The end of the decade may seem a long way off - most students who will be applying for the 2030 cycle haven’t started secondary school yet - but development takes time. Taking a scheme through planning to completion takes anything from three to five years. That puts an even greater urgency on the need to adequately plan for this expected growth now.’ Neil Armstrong and Merelina Sykes, Joint Heads of Student Property at Knight Frank and Richard Smith, Chief Executive at Unite Students
  • ‘Developing a significant volume of new purpose-built accommodation or growing the size of any private rental market will take many years. Working with local councils and partners now is a necessary foundational step in preparing for a future we can see coming towards us.’ Kieron Broadhead, Senior Executive Director, Students and Infrastructure, and Deputy Vice-President (Operations), University of Southampton
  • ‘As applicants and student numbers increase, there will also be pressures on the wider student experience. In planning for growth, institutions will need to take a responsible approach that builds in the necessary support for areas such as mental health and employability. Other areas, such as such as student accommodation will not be totally within the direct control of institutions, but they will need to work with partners on a planned and integrated approach, working not only with accommodation providers but also with local authorities and community stakeholders. Again, making sure the student voice is part of this will be critical.’ Chris Hale, writing in his former role as Director of Policy at Universities UK

​​​​Sander Kristel, Chief Operating Officer at UCAS, said: “Accommodation plays a big part in student experience – and our surveys show its importance is increasing as a decision-making factor.

 “The Journey to a Million applicants in 2030 presents a range of challenges and opportunities – with student accommodation one of the most high profile. Not only do we need to consider how we cater for the surge in demand from students, but also what happens when the 18-year-old population starts to decline after 2030." 

Richard Smith, Chief Executive at Unite Students, said: “The UK has long been an attractive choice for domestic and international students. Now demand is set to rise even further adding to the UK’s shortfall of high-quality, affordable student accommodation. Purpose-built student accommodation providers, including Unite Students, have a valuable role to play alongside university partners to help meet this challenge, but action is required now to plan for this expected growth. PBSA is not just about providing a bed to sleep in. High-quality accommodation built specifically with students in mind has a range of positive impacts on those who live there, from improved mental health to greater success and, we believe, better degree outcomes.” 

Neil Armstrong, Joint Head of Student Property at Knight Frank “As UCAS kicks off this important debate, we are proud to be invited to join the conversation in partnership with Unite. It is critical that, as we near the huge milestone of having one million student applicants by 2030, we plan ahead for the strain this will inevitably put on the need and demand for student housing. In many popular university towns and cities, the availability of student accommodation is far outweighed by the number of students searching for a place to live. The planning, development and delivery of purpose built student accommodation takes time, which puts a greater urgency on the need to adequately plan for the expected future growth of the UK’s student population.”

We’re releasing thinking from:

  • Courteney Sheppard, Head of Customer Contact, UCAS and David Penney, Director of Marketing, UCAS on How can we support ‘A Million’ good decisions? 
  • Tom Ravenscroft, Chief Executive Officer, Skills Builder on How can we best prepare the Million for a rapidly evolving job market? 
  • Dr Lisa Morrison Coulthard, Research Director: Optimal Pathways Development, National Foundation for Education Research (NFER) on What does the Journey to a Million mean for meeting the essential employment skills demands for the future labour market?
  • Bill Watkin, Chief Executive, Sixth Form Colleges Association (SFCA) on What does the Journey to a Million mean for the qualifications of young people?     
  • Oli De Botton, Chief Executive, The Careers and Enterprise Company on What does the Journey to a Million mean for Careers Information, Advice and Guidance to students about their choices?
  • Andy Durman, Executive Vice President of Global Business Unit, Lightcast on What careers will the class of 2026 aspire to?
  • Jason Holt, Chief Executive, Holts Group of Companies on What does the Journey to a Million mean for employers developing their apprenticeship provision?
  • Andy Forbes, Head of Development at the Lifelong Education Commission and Apprenticeship Champion for UCAS on What does the Journey to a Million mean for the supply of apprenticeship opportunities?
  • Lindsay Conroy, Apprenticeship Programme Lead, UCAS on How do we provide parity for the Million? 
  • Jennifer Coupland, Chief Executive Officer, Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education on What does the Journey to a Million mean for apprenticeships?
  • Neil Armstrong and Merelina Sykes, Joint Heads of Student Property at Knight Frank and Richard Smith, CEO at Unite Students on What does the Journey to a Million mean for student accommodation?
  • Melody Stephen, Law with International Studies student at the University of Manchester on What does it mean to be one of the Million? The student perspective
  • Professor Edward Peck CBE, Vice-Chancellor Nottingham Trent University and Department for Education Higher Education Student Support Champion on What does the Journey to a Million mean for the overall student experience?
  • Heidi Fraser-Krauss, Chief Executive Officer, Jisc on How can technology and blended learning support the Journey to a Million?
  • Kieron Broadhead, Senior Executive Director, Students and Infrastructure, and Deputy Vice-President (Operations), University of Southampton on What does the Journey to a Million mean for student support services?
  • Vanessa Wilson, Chief Executive Officer, University Alliance on What does the Journey to a Million mean for civic and community engagement?
  • Anne Marie Graham, Chief Executive, UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) on What does the Journey to a Million mean for the international student experience?
  • Carys Willgoss, Principal Policy Adviser, UCAS on What does the Journey to a Million mean for the global market?
  • Chris Kirk, Director of UCAS International, UCAS on What does the Journey to a Million mean for international admissions?

To read ALL these contributions to UCAS’ national debate on Journey to a Million please visit the following TWO links:

Challenge #4: Making choices

Challenge #5: Scaling student experience

For more information, please contact UCAS Press Office at which is monitored regularly.


Notes for editors

About UCAS’ Journey to a Million: 5 Big Challenges & 50 Big Thinkers National Debate

As the UK’s largest and most established admissions body for UK HE for 30 years, UCAS has access to unique application and entry data which has led to this campaign. You can find UCAS’ projections and modelling on the Journey to a Million and thinking already published here

50 key thinkers have contributed to the debate, and tackle key themes such as:

  • How do we continue to widen participation?
  • What are the answers to the imbalance of supply and demand?
  • How do we support students in a more competitive environment?
  • How do we promote the full range of choices to students?
  • What is the future student experience?

All 50 contributions will be available by summer 2023.

The opinions expressed in individual essays are the authors’ own, and do not reflect the views of UCAS. The purpose of this campaign is to stimulate debate.

The data

The projection for up to one million applicants by 2030 is driven by:

  • An increasing 18-year-old population, with the ONS forecasting that there could be nearly 900,000 18-year-olds in the population in 2030– an increase in 180,000 from 2020. 
  • The number of internationally mobile students will continue to grow with the OECD showing in 2000 there were 1.6m internationally mobile students, rising to 5.6m in 2020, and some forecast this could be as high as 9m in 2030.
  • By 2030, UCAS projections show the most likely scenario is a 30% more higher education applicants relative to 2022, with the most pessimistic scenario seeing growth of 19.5% and the most optimistic showing 41%.

Graph showing actual and forecasted number of applications to 2030

We are also releasing a press release exploring how the journey to a million could create greater demand and opportunity for apprenticeships. This is available to view at .

About UCAS

UCAS, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, is an independent charity, and the UK's shared admissions service for higher education.

Our services support young people making post-18 choices, as well as mature learners, by providing information, advice, and guidance to inspire and facilitate educational progression to university, college or a degree apprenticeship.

We manage almost three million applications, from around 700,000 people each year, for full-time undergraduate courses at over 380 universities and colleges across the UK.

We also provide a wide range of research, consultancy and advisory services to schools, colleges, careers services, professional bodies, and employers, including apprenticeships.

We’re a successful and fast-growing organisation, which helps hundreds of thousands of people every year. We're committed to delivering a first-class service to all our customers — they're at the heart of everything we do.

About Unite Students

Unite Students is the UK's largest owner, manager, and developer of purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) serving the country's world-leading higher education sector. We provide homes to 70,000 students across 157 properties in 23 leading university towns and cities. We currently partner with over 60 universities across the UK.

Our people are driven by a common purpose: to provide a 'Home for Success' for the students who live with us. Unite Students’ accommodation is safe and secure, high quality, and affordable. Students live predominantly in en-suite study bedrooms with rents covering all bills, insurance, 24-hour security and high-speed Wi-Fi. We also achieved a five-star British Safety Council rating in our last audit.

We are committed to raising standards in the student accommodation sector for our customers, investors, and employees. This is why our new Sustainability Strategy, launched in 2021, includes a commitment to become net zero carbon across our operations and developments by 2030.

Founded in 1991 in Bristol, the Unite Group is an award-winning Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT), listed on the London Stock Exchange. For more information, visit Unite Group's corporate website or the Unite Students’ site

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